Teaching With An iPad

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Francis Picabia, 1920, Image Source: Artforum
Francis Picabia, 1920, Image Source: Artforum

This fall I successfully taught two college courses using only an iPad 2 (and iPad Air) — no desktop or laptop. The experiment went easier than I expected but it was not without challenges.

I teach Art Appreciation and Art History at a local community college. For each session, content is presented on Keynote slides (typically consisting of 25 – 75 slides). Creating the presentations takes anywhere from three to fifty hours — most of that spent on the iPad. Naturally, the preparation involves a lot of time on the Internet for research, image selection, and administrative tasks.

Safari and Mercury were my favorite browsers. Each had its strengths. The latter’s “user agent” feature was essential for accessing “desktop only” websites. Pages and Keynote were the native apps I used most, and no complaints about either of them. The iPad’s ‘screenshot’ feature was a godsend for facilitating discussions on film and television. A lot of class time was spent analyzing the cinematography of ‘Breaking Bad’; that was made possible by using stills I captured while watching the series on Videos.

The app that proved most indispensable was Dropbox. In addition to the storage space and ability to transfer data, it was often the only way I could upload documents/images to select sites. Finding workarounds like this proved to be the biggest headache. But I was determined to avoid running to a copy shop to use a desktop. That stubbornness inspired a lot creativity. For example, when the school’s Blackboard site only allowed me upload .jpegs, I took screenshots of the documents I needed to post and submitted them that way.

I never found an ideal way to bookmark or file webpages I wanted to come back to. Readability is great in many ways, but the iPad app doesn’t allow you to create folders. In the end I utilized the bookmark feature on Safari for that purpose. For administrative tasks and class preparation, the most helpful apps were: Teacher’s Aide (attendance), www.cut (URL shortener), Jasmine (You Tube client), PDF Sign Pro (multiple uses), PDF Tools (merges multiple PDFs), Wikipaintings (image searches), and Art Studio (diagrams, mark up document/image).

It is imperative to use a bluetooth keyboard for long bouts of typing. I would like to find an affordable stand that displays the iPad at eye level. Recently, I thought I invented two new medical categories: iPad Wrist and iPad Neck. iPad ergonomic accessories are a necessity for Apple’s tablet to become a hardcore work computer.

Disclosure: These apps were independently purchased by the author.

Teresa España

Community college art instructor, indie music fan, SF Giants diehard, iPad fancier.

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8 thoughts on “Teaching With An iPad”

  1. Very interesting. I agree with Pages and Keynote being “okay” enough to work with them. I have the same setup, my biggest challenge is how I display the information – you mentioned nothing about that in your article. Do you use a beamer? Via an HDMI adapter? I sometimes have to work in old classrooms with nothing but a blackboard, then I take my beamer with me along and throw the screen on the wall. I bought an HDMI adapter for my iPad 2, I now hesitate to buy another one just because my iPad Air has a Lighning Adapter. Also, it’s mostly not ideal, because it’s not easy to position the beamer right.
    My perfect setup would be via Apple TV wirelessly, but the classrooms are not ready for that.
    Few tips: There are many Apps with which you can download youtube videos and save them for later. offline use – no streaming and waiting required. Also, I organize class material in Evernote and in Dropbox, and both Apps have a feature to save documents on the iPad for offline use.

    1. Thank you for the great tips. I didn’t know I could play You Tube videos offline! That will save me a lot of time. To show the Keynotes, I used a Lightning to VGA adapter to connect to the school’s VGA projector. Apple TVs in the classroom would definitely make life easier/better.

  2. I have used Skype on the iPad to give long-distance piano lessons, with an iPad Air on my side and an iPad 4 on the other. That is new to me and the big hurdle seems to be the audio quality, not the visual. And to position the iPad so it shows the hands and keys. The camera does seem to be better than my good webcam, but the resident mic could be better for hearing audio subtleties.

  3. Congratulations, Teresa. There is a extension called Pocket that lets you bookmark websites. It is a wonderful one. Unfortunately, it does not work with Safari yet. You will need to use Firefox or Chrome. But they also have a web version, so it is probably accessible through Safari.


  4. I finally purchased an iPad floor stand and don’t know how I lived without it! It is adjustable (height, angle of iPad) and makes reading, writing, and everything else much, much easier. Do others have ergonomic accessories that are useful?

  5. iPad Air + Apple wireless keyboard + Incase Origami = HEAVEN
    My MBP is useless now since I’ve got this work configuration.
    Writing everything (publication, abstracts, Thesis) on LaTeX (Texpad)

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